Acoustic Guitars – Lowering the Action

I get a lot of enquiries from people with acoustic guitars wanting to know if there’s any way that the action can be lowered to make the guitar easier to play. The short answer is YES. The long answer is also YES.

The “action” of a guitar is a measurement of the height of the strings from the fretboard. The higher the action, the harder the strings are to press down onto the frets. A guitar with a high action is harder to play, especially for beginners or people that don’t play very often (so don’t have calluses and/or a lot of finger strength). Lowering the action makes the guitar a lot easier to play, with the only side effect of perhaps making it sound a little less loud/clear, but being able to fret the notes properly usually outweighs this quite comfortably.

How It’s Done

Acoustics lack many of the adjustment features of an electric guitar, so lowering the action isn’t quite as straightforward. There are two areas that I adjust – the nut and the bridge saddle. The saddle is removed and a small amount of material is taken off the bottom – usually between 1 and 3mm depending on how much the action needs reducing. This is done on a belt sander first ( to remove most of the material) and is then finished by hand to ensure that the bottom edge is perfectly straight and square.

If the nut slots are too shallow (they usually are) these are then deepened up to the appropriate specs using a set of ridiculously expensive Japanese nut files, of which I have several sets. For what they cost you would think they were made by Hattori Hanzo himself, but they do the job great so I can’t complain. The nut slots are adjusted for depth until the string *JUST* clears the first fret when pressed down at the second fret. The slots are then lubricated and the guitar is reassembled and restrung.

So there we go. I can take your acoustic egg-slicer and turn it into a silky smooth shredders dream.

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